Blissfully, Shanghai soup dumplings continue to spread across the city. In the 20 years since their popularization began, they’ve been incorporated into the dim sum menus at large Cantonese seafood restaurants like East Harbor and Jing Fong and can now be found at many Chinese (and even Thai) carry-outs. And the Shanghai restaurants where they first debuted have continued to multiply.
The latest is Shanghai Zhen Gong Fu in Elmhurst, Queens, located at 86-16 Queens Blvd, between Grand and 54th avenues. A stone’s throw from the Queens Center Mall and big box stores in the Newtown neighborhood, the gray dining room is decorated with red Chinese lanterns and little else. The restaurant has been open two weeks and proclaims a “Soft Opening” in a sign out front. As a result, only part of the catalogic menu, which runs to nearly 160 dishes, is currently available.
The showpiece is already in place, though. The famous Shanghai soup dumplings (aka xiao long bao) are available in the usual plain pork and the crab and pork permutations, at $5.75 and $7.75 respectively, for six. For comparative purposes, the same number of dumplings are $9.25 and $10.75 at Joe’s Shanghai in Midtown. But more remarkable than the discount price is a deluxe version of the dumplings: black truffle and pork soup dumplings ($12.75). But are they worth it?
For the dumpling weary, certainly. They arrive in the usual bamboo steamer, throwing off a pungent smell that’s probably mainly truffle oil. In the pucker at the top of each dumpling is a little wad of black truffle, and the rugged pork meatball inside also contains a good quantity of the pricey black fungus. To share a basket with a friend is to be engulfed in truffles, adding a touch of luxury.
A web search indicates this is not the first appearance of truffles in Chinese dumplings. A pair of other Shanghai restaurants in Chinatown and Flushing served them as early as 2015, and popular Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung, which doesn’t have locations in New York, serves a version as well. But they’ve yet to become as prolific as their less luxe counterparts.
Apart from the soup dumplings, the menu at Shanghai Zheng Gong Fu offers all the usual Shanghai dishes, with a good number of Sichuan, Cantonese, and Hunan dishes thrown in for good measure. The Shanghai stuff includes braised pork shank with bok choy, lion’s head meatballs, and rice cake with shredded pork and preserved vegetable. The latter ($8.75), which a friend and I shared at a recent lunch, could have used a little more salt, or stronger pickled mustard greens. In other words, it was good but a bit pallid in flavor.
But the real highlight of our first meal was a three-item selection ($21) of the small cold dishes. The list of these dishes at Shanghai Zhen Gong Fu runs to 11, including wine chicken, jellyfish, and braised bamboo.
We picked vegetarian mock duck (tofu skin wrapped around mushrooms in imitation of duck breast, a dish said to have been invented by vegetarian Buddhist monks), smoked fish (bony, but delicious), and kau fu (big meaty hunks of soy-braised gluten that might as well have been stewed beef, except for a certain wonderful sponginess). Really, these cold dishes are every bit as good as Spanish tapas, and can function in nearly the same way.
And I, for one, can’t wait until the entire menu at Shanghai Zhen Gong Fu is available.